PHOENIX (AP) — An immigrant mother in Phoenix granted leniency during the Obama administration was deported to Mexico Thursday in what activists said was an early example of how President Donald Trump plans to carry through on his vow to crack down on illegal immigration.
The case of Guadalupe Garcia de Rayos became a rallying cry for immigrant groups who believe Trump’s approach to immigration will unfairly tear apart countless families.
Her arrest prompted a raucous demonstration in downtown Phoenix late Wednesday as protesters blocked enforcement vans from leaving a U.S. immigration office. Seven people were arrested.
White House spokesman Sean Spicer referred questions on the matter to Immigration and Customs Enforcement, which said in a statement on Twitter on Thursday that the agency “will remove illegal aliens convicted of felony offenses as ordered by an immigration judge.”
Garcia de Rayos was deported around 10 a.m. from a Nogales border crossing and ICE worked with Mexican consular officials to repatriate her, agency spokeswoman Yasmeen Pitts O’Keefe said in a statement. She said her case underwent a thorough review that determined the 35-year-old mother of two children with U.S. citizenship had no “legal basis to remain in the U.S.”
“ICE will continue to focus on identifying and removing individuals with felony convictions who have final orders of removal issued by the nation’s immigration courts,” Pitts O’Keefe said.
Advocates denounced the deportation as heartless.
“ICE has done what President Trump wanted to do, which is deport and separate our families,” said Marisa Franco, director of the Phoenix-based advocacy group Mijente. “We are going to stand strong with the family.”
Garcia de Rayos was among workers arrested years ago in one of then-Sheriff Joe Arpaio’s first investigations into Phoenix-area businesses suspected of hiring immigrants who had used fraudulent IDs to get jobs.
She was accused of using a Social Security number belonging to another person to get a job at the Waterworld amusement park in the Phoenix suburb of Glendale.
Garcia de Rayos was not arrested in a raid of the park, but was taken into custody six months later when investigators found discrepancies in her employment documents. She was denied bail in January 2009 under an Arizona law that prohibited it for immigrants who are in the country illegally and charged with felonies.
Garcia de Rayos pleaded guilty in March 2009 to a reduced charge of criminal impersonation and was sentenced to two years of probation. She was placed into deportation proceedings but given leniency under Obama administration guidelines that targeted immigrants who had committed dangerous crimes.
On Wednesday, she showed up with her lawyer for a routine check-in with ICE officials and was detained instead of being allowed to leave after checking in.
Immigration activists who anticipated she could be arrested rallied in front of ICE offices, and advocacy groups who took Arpaio to court over his immigration enforcement say they now face the same struggle with Trump over deportations.
Garcia de Rayos’ lawyer, Ray Ybarra Maldonado, said Arizona’s identity theft laws are the reason his client was put on the radar of immigration authorities. He said the Arpaio raids terrorized the community.
Arizona’s ID theft laws were amended in 2007 and 2008 as part of a package of laws aimed at confronting businesses that hired people in the country illegally. The laws led to the arrest of 700 workers, mostly immigrants.
Maldonado said his client’s deportation could push immigrants deeper into the shadows and to avoid checking in with authorities like Garcia de Rayos always did.
“My advice is, let’s look for a sanctuary, a church that might want to take you in if you want to do that. It’s not fun walking someone to the slaughter. It’s not fun walking in and then walking out without them,” he said.
Ahead of Garcia de Rayos’ deportation, dozens of immigration activists Wednesday night blocked the gates of ICE’s Phoenix office.
Police took positions around the building and confronted some of the demonstrators, many of them chanting “Justice!” in English and Spanish.
Seven protesters were arrested, said Phoenix police spokesman Sgt. Jonathan Howard.
The deportation of Garcia de Rayos came days after the Trump administration broadened regulations under which some people will be deported.
She came to the U.S. from the Mexican state of Guanajuato when she was 14 and has two children who are U.S. citizens, said the Puente Arizona immigrant advocacy group based in Phoenix.
Associated Press writers Paul Davenport and Bob Seavey in Phoenix contributed to this report.
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